Adam Reynoso ’15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
A year after it’s first season, the Netflix prison dramedy Orange is the New Black is back and has the same dark humor as its first season, while still offering a different formula and insight into more secondary characters for its second season. What made the first season work continues to work in this season, and the show really utilizes its entire cast to truly make it an ensemble show.
The show starts off with an episode that sets the tone for the season and almost feels like another version of the pilot. However, it’s clear that Taylor Schilling‘s Piper Chapman isn’t the same, doe-eyed inmate as she was in the beginning of the show. She’s smarter and hardened, and it’s clear that her time at Lichfield has brought out this survivor that fought for her life and lost control at the end of last season. And while she spends the episode at a coed prison, one of the best moments of the episode occurs when she finds out that a male inmate was actually a hitman. She lets out a sigh of relief and is thankful to find he’s a murderer instead of a rapist.
The first episode also deals with her relationship with Laura Prepon‘s Alex Vause, as well as explaining her absence for the majority of season two. It was nice to get some sort of resolution between the two characters, well, before that went out the door at the end of the episode. Aside from the first episode, Alex appears in a couple of more episodes toward the end of the season. Another part of the premiere offered a better understanding into the trial that Alex and Piper are both a part of and complicating their relationship even more. It also introduces a threat in the form of the drug kingpin behind Alex’s drug smuggling business. While he has some presence throughout the season, it’s safe to assume that we’ll see him more next season with Alex being back at the prison and possibly seeing their history.
For the rest of the season, Piper kind of becomes a more secondary character while a new character, Lorraine Toussaint‘s Vee, comes in and stirs up trouble with a majority of the cast. She has ties to Taystee (Danielle Brooks) and Red (Kate Mulgrew). Just as well, Crazy Eyes AKA Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) and Poussey (Samira Wiley) become more present and active with Vee’s storyline. Vee is a welcome, new villain that is easy to love to hate. She’s manipulative, smart and a dangerous woman and it’s difficult to watch as she turns these women against each other and shape them into her own pawns, specifically Suzanne. And that’s why Vee is probably one of the worst kinds of person. Suzanne’s always been interesting, almost innocent and misunderstood, but also dangerous. And Vee takes advantage of that vulnerability and it’s heartbreaking to see a character like Suzanne go down that road, especially when she believes that Vee care about her. Uzo Aduba deserves much of the credit as she play the part perfectly.
As for the other highlights, the audience is able to get a better look at Poussey and Taystee’s friendship and their backgrounds. They were both excellent in the first season so it was rewarding to see them have a stronger presence this time around. The same can be said of for Red, as she really became more of the protagonist this season. She’s always been the one to care about the girls and she’s doing her best to protect her family from the likes of Vee. Just as well, it was a great decision to see her son and a look at her early days in the prison. And her redemption arc definitely had the right pacing and a great payoff in the end with her family dinner.
Possibly the strongest episode in the season could be argued as the episode that looked at Rosa’s storyline, a story that could have easily been overlooked. She’s not a character that’s been at the forefront of the show, or even in the advertisements, but she’s just as fascinating as anyone else. To see how she wound up in the prison and the kind of life she led as a bank robber with an unfortunate curse, it was a fun story. And her relationship with a younger patient at the hospital brought a different type of relationship to the show that was done rather well. It’s understandable why she had an episode after seeing the finale and it was a great way to end the season with.
The show’s sophomore season has lived up to the hype and is hard to not binge in one weekend. The cast has continued to do an excellent job at bringing these rich stories to life and the show has proven that it has a few tricks left up its sleeve. If the show can continue to reinvent itself as it has this season, it has a bright future ahead of itself. And with the stories already told, one can only hope that next year will bring stories that can make a jaw drop like Lorna Morello’s real relationship with her “fiancé” Christopher, which was both haunting and sad.
Overall Season Grade: A-